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No detail Too Minor for General Manager Ronen Nissenbaum
 in Preparing the Opening for The 422-room, $115 million
 Buckhead InterContinental Hotel, Atlanta

By Leon Stafford, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Nov. 4, 2004 - When Frank McGrath entered his room at the new InterContinental Hotel on Monday, he did what mothers always tell you not to: He turned on every light.

McGrath wasn't thumbing his nose at frugality. He was one of 20 InterContinental employees who spent the night to examine every nook, cranny and pillowcase. Their mission was to make sure everything at the swanky Buckhead hotel, which opens Thursday, was in tiptop shape.

That meant checking every light bulb, running the bathroom water to make sure hot and cold worked properly, and plugging in the hair dryer to make sure it wouldn't short-circuit. Most importantly, he tested the bed to make sure it was so comfy that only a marching band could break a guest's slumber.

"It's just as comfortable as any of the other nice hotels that I've been in," McGrath, a bellman at the hotel, said the morning after the inspection.

For the rest of the month, groups of employees will stay overnight until all the rooms have been slept in. It's a new start-up strategy for Ronen Nissenbaum, the hotel's general manager, who has opened two InterContinental properties in other cities.

He thinks the sleepovers not only will help find problems but also will make staff better aware of the level of comfort the company demands for guests.

"We've gone a little bit overboard, but we just want to raise the bar," Nissenbaum said.

The 422-room, $115 million hotel, which has been under construction since 2002, opens facing fierce competition from luxury mainstays Ritz-Carlton, Grand Hyatt and Four Seasons.

It also goes into operation at a time when Atlanta has more hotel rooms than it can fill, though analysts forecast occupancy and revenue will increase in 2005.

The InterContinental Buckhead will charge travelers $300 a night for a standard room and up to $2,500 for the presidential suite. Those customers had better feel as if they are staying in Shangri-La and not Shangri-OK, industry experts said.

"This property has to be perfect," Nissenbaum said Monday, amid a cacophony of clanks, bangs and bams from workers hurriedly putting on finishing touches.

InterContinental is the flagship brand for English hotel giant InterContinental Hotels Group, which has its American headquarters across from Perimeter Mall. IHG operates other InterContinental luxury hotels in Washington, Miami and New York. It also operates more affordable brands such as Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn and Staybridge Suites.

The Buckhead hotel is special, Nissenbaum said.

"This property has to be the level by which everybody else gets measured," he said. "This is a showcase hotel for us to demonstrate to other companies and investors what we can do."

It's a showcase that just a few days ago had walls, tables and doors pocked with Post-it notes. The bright yellow sheets drew attention to nicks and blemishes that needed to be painted over or polished away before the hotel opened.

No detail was too minor. On the African cedar walls in the hotel restaurant, tiny nail holes that needed to be filled with a pin's head of putty were marked with Post-its. So was a strip of overlooked blue painter's tape left above a doorsill. A room sign that pointed guests in the wrong direction also got a sticky note.

McGrath's room had its share of problems. One of the drawers in the TV/minibar armoire was hard to pull out, while doors to a hall cabinet took some elbow grease to open. Scuff marks near the entrance to the room earned a notice, as did glue residue from a number removed from the door.

Even the bed's comforter was tagged. The hotel's director of sales and marketing, Debbie Grant, noticed telltale creases where it had been folded for shipping. The wrinkles would need to be steamed out.

Nissenbaum, sitting over coffee Tuesday morning, assessed what was left to do. He had gone home the night before but returned at dawn to check progress on a gift shop still under construction and a seafood bar going up in the restaurant.

He admitted he would have preferred no problems but knew that wasn't realistic.

Ninety percent of the Post-it notes stuck around the hotel Monday would be gone by this morning, Nissenbaum predicted. Those remaining would be in areas guests won't see, like the kitchen, where some tiles still need grouting.

But new Post-its will go up, Nissenbaum acknowledged, pushing aside his coffee cup to jot down an addition to his fix-it list: The table he was sitting at wobbled.

-----To see more of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.ajc.com.

(c) 2004, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. For information on republishing this content, contact us at (800) 661-2511 (U.S.), (213) 237-4914 (worldwide), fax (213) 237-6515, or e-mail reprints@krtinfo.com. IHG,

 
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